Extraordinary courage, extraordinary products
Xhosa for 'we embrace and develop one another', Wola Nani was established in 1994 as a non-profit organisation to help bring relief to the communities hardest hit by the HIV crisis. Their now famous papier mach bowl patterns focus on fishes, the most intricate being the sardine bowl.
The picture is of Monica who works at Wola Nani. Here is her story:
"In 1996 I was pregnant. I was also suffering from a cough. I did not know then that I had HIV, but I did feel there was something not quite right. 2 months after I gave birth, I was feeling sick and weak. I was unable to look after the baby properly. I had diarrhoea. Food was just going straight through me.
I went to a private doctor but he told me to go to the Guguletu hospital. I was worried I had HIV - the disease that everyone feared. I had been there for 5 days but they could not find out what was wrong with me. They wanted to test for HIV and provided a counsellor to talk to me. She seemed to think that I did not have it as I had only one boyfriend and I had always been faithful. The counsellor persuaded me to have the test, so they would know what was wrong with me. A day later, I found out I was positive.
I asked the doctor to write a letter for me to give to my family to help explain to them. I took it home and gave it to them but they were not supportive. They did not understand. They did not want to help me and would not look after me. My parents have passed away and my 3 brothers are all married and lived elsewhere. I was all alone. My boyfriend left me when I was sick. I did not disclose to him but I think he knew anyway. He left and married someone else. I had no child support.
I was also diagnosed with TB at this time and began treatment for 6 months. My baby also took the treatment. My baby was still very sick and they told me he would not live long. After the TB treatment I went to the clinic for help with HIV. A clinic had now opened in early 98. I also have an older son who lives with my other family in the Transkei. When I was sick I also told them but they did not give me any money to look after my baby.
Then my baby died. 18 months after he was born. I buried him and decided to then focus on myself. My boyfriend came back after the baby died. His wife left him as she thought we were together but I did not want him. Now the baby was gone I had no feelings for him.
I went to the doctor to get help with a disability grant. My older son who was now 10 years old came to live with me. I heard about Wola Nani and Daisy one of the lay counsellors came to see me. She was very kind. She was the one to share my problems with. She told me, "We're here for you. You're not alone. We love you." She showed me hope and she gave me some food.
I started to make beading and bangles. It gave me some money - enough to eat. My skills were improving and I enjoyed being around supportive people. We shared our problems. It was a nice time for me. I became a beading trainer. I like to share my skills with others. I don't keep it to myself. So then they can help themselves instead of staying at home doing nothing.
I had been staying in my Grandmother's house but my youngest aunt got divorced and wanted to live there so she kicked me out. I had to make a home in a shack. I've got my son and we work together. If we have a problem we say 'how can we solve this?' Once we had no money and he could not go on a school trip. He did not mind. He managed. He appreciates whatever he gets - clothes, he is not a fussy eater. But school fees are the priority. He understands I need pills to keep me well and he reminds me to take them. He understands about my HIV.
I have PCP and my CD4 count is less than 180. I was very short of breath and could not breathe properly. I could not even walk. So I start treatment (antiretrovirals) next week. It is cold in my shack so I bought a heater. I try to stay warm.
I now have training from the Sizopila project at Groote Schuur to give therapy and lay counselling, but first I must wait until my PCP has gone as it can be contagious. I want to help others. Educate them. Open their eyes. Others died because of stress as they didn't know what to do. I have hope.
Only God can look out for me now. I must love this HIV of mine. I must accept it, so it can accept me. You can't get rid of it. If you don't accept your virus, it's when you get ill. I want to teach others. Maybe God makes me have this. He knows what he is doing. I need to spread the news as there are some who don't know what to do.
Before the people hate me, now they are my friends. My mind is OK. It's only in the bloodstream. Life is good now.